The Center Township resident, who hails from Wisconsin, was prepared to answer any question thrown her way about Islam, the religion she chose to follow as a student in Washington, D.C.
Most of the questions posed to her during the
"Spread Hummus, Not Hate" event Wednesday evening at the Beaver Memorial
Library where genuine. When do Muslims hold religious services? Why do
men and women worship in separate sections of a mosque? Do your children
ever feel threatened?
Not all of the questions were innocently posed, but that's why Ashfaq set out to engage with the community.
a lot of misunderstandings out there about Islam, so we just want to
clarify," Ashfaq said. She and friend Dr. Raniah Khairy, of Brighton
Township, organized the event Wednesday, and will meet again Saturday
from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the library.
"We want to tell people what
we really believe so they understand that not all Muslims are what you
see in the media, the negative aspect of, unfortunately, what some
people are doing," Ashfaq said.
She has a unique perspective.
Ashfaq converted to the faith from Catholicism. Sher later married a
doctor from Pakistan, and together they have four children.
an OB/GYN specialist at Heritage Valley Beaver hospital in Brighton
Township, is from Egypt and immigrated to the United States in 2000. She
is now a U.S. citizen.
"It's a way to get our community and our
society together, especially with all of the madness that is happening
in the media these days," Khairy said.
Julia Chaney, of Beaver
Falls, is a friend of both Ashfaq and Khairy and helped to organize the
event, which drew more than 50 people.
Chaney, who is a Christian, said Ashfaq has always been open to discussing the Islamic religion.
always encourages me to ask questions, not to worry about anything
being awkward or not (to) a question I'm allowed to ask," Chaney said.
"We've had some wonderful conversations."
Ashfaq has taken Chaney
to her mosque "in a spirit of peace and understanding for us to enter
and just see what's going on. The people are beautiful and loving and
welcoming," Chaney said.
Before the predominately Christian
audience, Ashfaq explained her mission was to discuss Islam and clear up
misconceptions. "We are here for education purposes, to clarify, we are
not here to make anybody believe what we believe," she said.
to Ashfaq, Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions, like Christianity
and Judaism. "We all view the prophet Abraham as a father figure in our
faiths," she said.
The Quran, the holy book of the Islamic faith,
refers to "Jews, Christians and Muslims, all three, as people of the
book. We are lumped into one category, we have to respect each other, we
all have a lot in common," Ashfaq said.
The word Islam means submission to god, and the Muslim is the one who submits to god.
are five pillars of Islam: The first is faith and the second is prayer.
Practicing Muslims pray five times per day. Toni said this is "stopping
your day to connect to the divine." The third pillar is charity, which
means giving a portion of their wealth to those in need, and the fourth
is fasting. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, only eating and
drinking before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. The final
pillar is pilgrimage.
The main difference between Christianity and Islam, Ashfaq said, is that Muslims view Jesus Christ as a prophet, not as divine.
are many obvious cultural differences between Christians, Jews and
Muslims in America. Muslims practice their day of worship on Fridays,
Christians celebrate on Sundays and Jewish people recognize the Sabbath
on Saturday. Practicing Muslims do not eat pork, Jews follow a kosher
diet, many Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
However, the way Muslim people are viewed by Americans in other countries causes some misconceptions.
"It's really important to distinguish between religion and culture," Ashfaq said.
example, people are sometimes shocked to see Ashfaq drive, she said.
That’s likely because women in one Muslim-majority nation are legally
forbidden from driving.
"Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to
drive. Why? I have no idea," Ashfaq said. "It has absolutely nothing to
do with Islam. It's a misogynistic culture, what can I say?"
people also have the impression Muslim women and girls are kept out of
schools, forbidden from learning by their religion. Ashfaq said that's
"The prophet Mohmmad emphasized seeking knowledge for both men and women," She said. "He did not distinguish between the two."
is forbidden by the faith to force a woman into marriage, though it
does happen, she said. "I don't think this is exclusive to Islam. I
think if you go to many different places in the world you will see stuff
like that happening."
Divorce is also allowed in Islam, though
it's not favored. "It's understood that sometimes it's necessary,"
Ashfaq said. Additionally, women don't have to take their husband's
name. They can, but there is no requirement in the faith.
Muslim men and women are encouraged by their faith to adopt a modest
dress. For example, many Muslim women wear a Hijab, which is a scarf
which covers the head.
"Absolutely not all Muslim women choose to wear (the Hijab)," Ashfaq said.
covering really is not something new," she said. "It's not a new
concept in the Abrahamic religions. Nuns cover their heads, Amish women
cover their heads, Jewish women cover their heads."
Only two countries have laws that require women to cover their heads: Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Women who wear the hijab "do it by choice. We're not forced by our husbands," Ashfaq said.
is an act of devotion," she said. "It's the same way a Christian opts
to wear a cross around the neck. Why? Because you have pride in your
faith and you want to be recognized for your faith. It's the same
She said she has never met a woman who was forced to cover her head.
lib is not about how much skin you show," Ashfaq said. "Women's lib is
about being educated, it's about equal rights, it's about equal pay --
which we still don't even have in this country -- it's about a woman
choosing the way that she wants to dress. It's about respect."
Chloe Jane Bailey, of New Brighton, attended the event with her mother.
learned a lot of new words that I didn't know before," she said. "I
learned that there's a lot of misconceptions that other people at this
gathering had and, hopefully, they were cleared up."
spoke to the crowd and addressed some of the topics of the Muslim faith
which people tend to associate with terrorism.
"The concept of
Jihad has been hijacked over the years by many political and religious
groups to justify various forms of violence." Many, she said, have
influenced others to incite violence by making it seem like the religion
Both women told the audience they hope the
decisions of extremists won't impact their views of all Muslims, for
which there are more than one billion across the world.
student, said she has always been "very open hearted. I don't really
have any judgements on anyone specifically. I did get slightly irritated
when there was unrest in the gathering."
The event helped her learn and feel competent discussing the Islamic faith, even with people who may have misconceptions.
there does become a discussion about Islam issues, I can give some
information now, which is really nice because before I just had nothing
to say," she said.